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Sudan: The painful dilemma facing Khartoum’s residents

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After fighting had rocked their home city, Khartoum, for more than a week, Dallia Mohamed Abdelmoniem and her family made the “gut-wrenching” decision to leave.

They had originally planned to escape on 19 April, but their cars had been vandalized in the fighting that had taken place near their home. The next day, relatives came and helped them move to the city’s outskirts.

From there they would have to make a choice – make the 1,000km (620-mile) trip north to the Egyptian border, then onwards to Cairo, or the slightly shorter 850km journey north-east to Port Sudan, on the Red Sea.

With fighting between the army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) taking place across much of the country, both routes would be risky.

“We decided not to try Egypt because of the length of the trip – we had kids and elderly people with us, so it didn’t make sense,” she told the BBC, referring to their travelling party that was made up of 23 family members.

With thousands going to Egypt, they were also worried about hold-ups at the border – with family members in Port Sudan, they went there instead.

The journey took 26 hours.

“It took so long because the bus driver said he wasn’t taking any risks; he didn’t want to meet any RSF fighters, so he took the long way round,” she said.

They did manage to avoid RSF fighters, although there were army checkpoints every few hours.

“I must say they were very civil, they just wanted to make sure we were family and there were no RSF fighters hiding among us,” she said.

Despite the turmoil the country is facing – more than 3,500 wounded and at least 400 killed, although the death toll is thought to be much higher – Ms Abdelmoniem said there were uplifting moments along the way, notably when a group of people living by the side of the road rushed to their bus to offer them drinks, snacks and good luck messages for their journey.

“It is the one positive memory I will have of this time – and a reminder that we are nothing to do with the fighting and suffering our country is facing,” she said.

Their bus arrived at Port Sudan on Monday evening, where things were “very calm”, she said.

“It’s like being on a completely different planet to Khartoum – you wouldn’t think there are any issues here.”

But their journey is far from over. Ms Abdelmoniem thinks the fighting will cause the country to plunge further into chaos in the weeks and months ahead.

Sudan already has an “acute” shortage of food, water, medicine and fuel, as well as limited access to electricity and communications, Madiha Raza, from the International Rescue Committee, told the BBC.

“Prices of essential items are increasing substantially because of shortages”, and humanitarian operations have been suspended, Ms Raza said.

Ms Abdelmoniem thinks the situation “will get desperate” and is planning to take her mother to a safe country, before returning to Sudan when it is safe to do so.

“I don’t want to become a refugee, I want to come back – I call myself temporarily displaced,” she said.

Asked how she felt about having to leave her home, she described it as “one of the worst feelings I have experienced – I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy”.

“I don’t know when I will go back, and I don’t know if my house will still be standing. That’s not a feeling I would wish on anyone. It’s horrible, it’s gut-wrenching,” she said.

With much of the fighting centered around Khartoum, many residents have chosen to leave, although it is currently difficult to say how many.

Many others have chosen to stay, however – although that has not been an easy decision either.

Tagreed Abdin is one of those choosing to remain in the capital, despite being able to hear the fighting from her home.

Speaking to the BBC by phone over a crackly line on Tuesday, she had to pause the interview halfway through as she heard fighting and shelling outside – despite a ceasefire, the fourth since fighting began, starting hours earlier.

Ms Abdin said she feels safer at home than on the streets, where she has heard stories – and seen videos online – of people being “attacked, robbed, or worse”.

There are also reports of corpses of dead soldiers lining the streets, and widespread looting.

“We have electricity and power right now – so we feel that home is safer than venturing out,” she said, although she added that a few days ago that feeling of safety was shaken when a nearby apartment building was struck in the fighting.

“We’re in survival mode,” she said of her family’s life at home, adding that they currently have power and running water.

“We’re hoping and praying for the power to stay on,” she said.

There are also logistical challenges with leaving, with bus ticket prices skyrocketing. She said one bus journey that cost $20 (£16) before the fighting began is now $300, while there are also concerns about visas for her husband and teenage sons if they make it to the Egyptian border.

“So for us it’s not a case of ‘pack your bags and run’ – that might be the case for some people, but it’s not for us,” she said.

She added that she wanted to send a message to those fighting – to “keep civilians out of this”.

“If there is any type of agreement reached, or any external pressure, then it must be to guarantee the lives and safety of the Sudanese people,” she said.


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